Sixers: Can Paul Reed play the four?

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The Sixers bolstered the roster at several different positions in free agency. P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., and De’Anthony Melton all figure to play heavy minutes on the wing, while Montrezl Harrell continues to the Sixers’ recent tradition of signing overqualified veterans to back up Joel Embiid at center.

It’s the Harrell signing that leads us to this particular topic. After the playoffs, many assumed Paul Reed would take over as Embiid’s full-time backup. And, for most of the summer, it seemed like he would. Then Harrell was signed, and suddenly Reed was right back where he spent most of last season: the presumed third-string center, and potentially an afterthought.

In the mind of Doc Rivers, however, there may still be a path to getting Reed on the court: moving him to power forward. The Sixers coach experimented with Reed and Embiid together at practice on Tuesday, and had this to say afterward:

"“I like the rebounding lineup. It frees Paul up to be an offensive rebounder more. Especially, at the 4. At the 5, it’s hard enough to block him out. At the 4, I think it’ll be impossible to block him out.” (via Ky Carlin, SixersWire)"

Can the Sixers play Paul Reed at power forward?

This is not the first time Rivers has mentioned the possibility of Reed playing the four. In fact, he has explicitly stated that Reed is more a four than a five in the past. While that’s probably just not true — Reed’s natural position in the modern NBA landscape is definitely center — the 23-year-old G-League MVP does have the tools to survive next to Embiid.

Rivers mentioned the rebounding, which is not insignificant when you consider the Sixers’ woeful presence on the glass last season. Philly has never been a great rebounding team during the Embiid era (despite Embiid being a very good individual rebounder). Reed crashes the glass hard, and his presence in conjunction with Embiid boxing out would make the Sixers a much more potent team on the boards.

There’s also the matter of defense. Reed can defend the four spot. In fact, he may be slightly better in the short-term as a power forward. Embiid’s hulking presence in the middle would take pressure off of Reed as a defensive decision-maker and it would probably help curtail his foul trouble. Reed has the lateral quickness to defend smaller fours in space, and more of a free safety role — rather than being the team’s role rim protector — could maximize his unique talent for disruption. Reed forces a lot of turnovers already, and would be even better positioned to do so next to Embiid.

There is, however, a drawback to Reed at the four. He’s just not good enough offensively. Not yet, at least. That’s not to say the Sixers wouldn’t survive, as Embiid rarely loses the minutes he’s on the floor, but Reed’s low 3-point volume means his defender is going to sag off and pressure Embiid every time down the court.

Reed has shown he can hit 3s — he shot 44.1 percent on 3.9 attempts per game in 24 G-League appearances — but those numbers haven’t translated to the NBA yet. Reed’s release is long and clunky. The potential for improvement is there, and not many players work harder than Reed, but it’s hard to expect drastic improvement this season.

Until Reed can become a real floor spacer, his fit next to Embiid is suboptimal. He’s better suited as a roll man with four shooters around him, which can only be accomplished (in Philly, at least) when Reed plays the five. He has some other skills too, but Reed’s forays into ball-handling and self-creation are often tantalizing hints at upside rather than productive possessions.

The Sixers can play Paul Reed at the four. Defensively, he’s a whole lot better than Georges Niang and would make the second unit (with Melton, House, and Thybulle presumably leading the charge on the perimeter) pretty close to bulletproof. On the flip side, however, the offensive drop-off from Niang to Reed is equally, if not more significant.

Reed is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He becomes a restricted free agent next summer, and the Sixers would be wise to see what exactly they have before rendering a decision on his future. If Reed comes in and thrives next to Embiid, then great — he’s making remarkable and unexpected progress offensively. If not, however, then Rivers is going to have to find time for Reed to play center. It wouldn’t be crazy to suggest that Reed and Harrell should split reps behind Embiid, dependent on matchup.

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